Retired employee of Cass County Sheriff’s Office goes before County Commissioners to accuse the sheriff of favoritism and sexism
By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – A recently retired employee of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office criticized Sheriff Paul Laney before the Cass County Commissioners meeting Monday, threatening lawsuits on the horizon due to the sheriff’s favoritism, sexism, and double standards.
Gail Wischmann, a 34-year-employee of Cass County Sheriff’s Office, left the career she loved early and retired due to Laney, she said, after presenting a list of allegations attacking the Sheriff’s Department.
“I could not continue to work under the leadership of Sheriff Laney,” Wischmann said. “To do so would compromise my values of fairness and honesty. What I find amazing is that no one before has done this, I can’t walk around with this on my shoulders.”
She said Laney’s management style is dictatorial, micromanaging irrelevant issues while ignoring more important problems.
Wischmann knew she made the correct choice to retire after her final meeting with Laney. “I was blindsided by a verbal assault, it was just him and I, in which he threatened me with reprisals if I dared say anything negative about him or the department. He informed me, ‘people don’t like me, they actually even hate me.’
“It makes me angry that someone like him threatens me or any other employee should I come and speak. With his finger pounding on the table, he wanted me to know he had documentation on me.
“I view that as a threat.”
Wischmann didn’t know what documentation the sheriff was referring to, she said. She used to have a sign hanging in her office that read, “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” Wischmann’s voice shook as she strongly criticized the Cass County Sheriff’s Office before the Cass County Commissioners.
She accused the office of not performing an internal investigation after a jail officer addressed male and female staff as “penises and vaginas.” The sheriff’s office acknowledged the incident, saying they took action and used it as a learning experience of inappropriate behavior, Cass County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Sgt. Kim Briggeman said.
“It is inappropriate, but we dealt with it as a learning experience,” Briggeman said. “Not every incident needs to be turned over to OPS, but there was action and it was dealt with swiftly. And to my knowledge it has not happened with that officer again.”
Wischmann also stated that Office of Professional Standards, or OPS reports, are frequently not performed. When a deputy once came to work smelling of alcohol, the sheriff did not perform a breath test, she said. Instead, Laney denied the captain had been drinking, she said.
Briggeman heard about the drinking incident for the first time yesterday, but said that any officer under the influence of a controlled substance would be dealt with accordingly. “It would be something that we would absolutely review and look at it immediately.”
Current proper procedures for in-house management are in the process of changing over from general orders to a program called Lexipol, he said. Lexipol is a provider of risk management policies and training for public safety organizations, according to Lexipol’s website.
“The liability of a law enforcement officer being under the influence at work is completely unacceptable and it would be an intolerable act to allow them to continue to work,” Briggeman said. “There would 100 percent absolutely be an intervention.”
Laney has created an office where sexism abounds, Wischmann said.
“There are double standards within our department, favoritism, sexism, within the sheriff’s office, such as females not allowed to be a roller derby girl, yet allowing a male employee to practice amateur boxing.” Female deputies are also overlooked for assignments because male supervisors believe that males perform better, she said.
Briggeman said the incident was true, but that the sport was hindering the female officer’s work performance.
“As far as that roller derby stuff goes, he’ll absolutely acknowledge the fact the female deputy did hold a conversation with him, and the reason why that conversation took place was because that female deputy was getting hurt and she was missing work, it was obviously having an effect on her professional life. The male deputy was cautioned just the same about the dangers of boxing.”
The male-to-female ratio in the department’s command office is approximately fifty-fifty, Briggeman said.
“If you’re not the right fit you’re not it, if you’re the right fit, you’re it,” Briggeman said. “At one point four out of seven of his command officers were females. There isn’t any merit behind it.”
Wischmann admits she was a challenging employee. “I speak my mind, and sometimes, most times, it’s not well filtered. I don’t ever sugar coat anything, good or bad, I believe honesty is my strongest value.”
Wischmann also stated she was appalled that the meritorious award was given out to everyone in the department, approximately 160 employees, even if the deputies were on sick leave or on vacation the night Office Jason Moszer was killed by Marcus Schumacher. “As long as you were employed by a certain date you received this award. And to me this is a disservice to those people who were actually on the line being fired at that night. Those are the deputies that should have been recognized. You don’t give me a meritorious award because I worked the night shift that week.”
The awards were given because during that time nearly everyone in the sheriff’s department, no matter their roles, was called upon for extra duties, Briggeman said.
“He took it upon himself, when Chief Todd reached out to us that it would be an absolute honor to ensure that Fargo police department would be able to honor and pay respects to an officer who fell in the line of duty,” Briggeman said. Administrative assistants during that time answered more phone calls, patrol staff worked longer hours to assist the Fargo Police Department.
“To be honest, I, on the other hand, am upset that a former sergeant would have felt appalled to the fact that a majority if not all the sheriff’s office personnel stepped up to ensure the police department had that opportunity. It was an undertaking, it was absolutely an undertaking, it was something I hope I never have to do again, but I would do again tomorrow if called upon.
“I wear that meritorious award on my shirt.”
Staffing inside the county jail is an ongoing problem, Wischmann said, but the department does not need more patrol officers. “I know he has given you some numbers and I don’t… let me just say they are not truly what they are,” she said to the county commissioners. “They’ve come up with a system to inflate a documentation to look, to inflate the numbers larger than what they are for service of calls.
“I don’t appreciate his comments to administrative and a command staff that a request for another school officer is a good way to back door another patrol officer into the budget.”
Briggeman stated it is no secret that there is necessity for more patrol officers in the sheriff’s department. He has gone alone on assignments numerous times when a second car should have been involved. Doctoring paperwork, however, is impossible, he said.
“Everything is documented, every call for service, every run, whatever it may be it is clearly documented,” Briggeman said. “How you would doctor those reports? I don’t know.”
Wischmann said she has no other agenda other than to alert the public and the Cass County Commissioners on “what he [Laney] truly is,” she said. “They don’t see behind the scenes.”
Laney’s treatment of private citizens was also recorded on November 21, when Laney and Mandan Police Chief Jason Ziegler called Dakota Access Pipeline activists Liz George and Kana Newell over to their table while eating at the Rice Bowl. Within minutes during the conversation, both chiefs told the women to leave the restaurant, threatening arrest.
The sheriff’s department had no response to the video, according to Briggeman.
Wischmann also accused the sheriff’s department for paying two commanders to attend Laney’s graduation ceremony from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy in Virginia.
The department said the accusation was true, but that the two commanders were former FBI academy graduates, and the bureau encourages co-workers to attend graduation ceremonies.
Laney is a Cass County hero, according to his police biography. Originally from rural Cass County, near Horace, he served four years in the Marine Corps before becoming a Fargo police officer. He served as a lieutenant and commander of the Red River Valley SWAT Team, and was sworn in as Cass County Sheriff in 2007. He is president of the North Dakota Sheriff’s and Deputies Association, serves on the board of directors for the North Dakota Association of Counties. Laney is decorated, heavily, including the 2011 winner of the “Government Leader of the Year” award and in 2012 the “National Sheriff of the Year” award.
Laney has also been serving as Morton County Sheriff’s Department operations chief since mid August.
Wischmann served 34 years in the sheriff’s department starting in 1982 in the jail. She then moved into the warrants division, and became a sergeant working the streets, she said. When Laney took office, she created an office of internal affairs where she worked for seven years. Two years before retiring she became an administrative assistant, and continued working with the sex offenders’ office.
“I’d like to suggest that Cass County Commission, that you consider more vigilance on monitoring the sheriff’s office,” Wischmann said. “There are serious problems going on in the Cass County Sheriff’s office.
“I have no reason to make this up. One of these days Cass County is going to get hit hard with a lawsuit, and more than one lawsuit, not only from employees but from the public as well.”